1. The Conversation
Coppola’s 1974 classic starring quintessential badass Gene Hackman turned forty last month. Despite its age, The Conversation still draws you into its edgy, psychological puzzle about surveillance and our voyeuristic habit of always looking (but failing to see). Few films of the last twenty or thirty years can match its depth or moody atmosphere, and that final scene of Harry Caul sitting among the rubble of his home playing a lonesome sax number still devastates.
The Atlantic, also noting the film’s anniversary, recommends The Conversation be required viewing for all NSA employees.
2. Grapes of Wrath
Steinbeck’s Great Depression novel turned seventy-five last month. In addition to being one of the great novels set partially in Oklahoma (and being an Okie myself), I’m rereading this bad boy just to be reminded of sentences like:
And the crops changed. Fruit trees took the place of grain fields, and vegetables to feed the world spread out on the bottoms: lettuce, cauliflower, artichokes, potatoes—stoop crops. A man may stand to use a scythe, a plow, a pitchfork; but he must crawl like a bug between the rows of lettuce, he must bend his back and pull his long bag between the cotton rows, he must go on his knees like a penitent across a cauliflower patch.
3. In Utero, 20th Anniversary Edition
I still remember the night I listened to my friend’s copy of In Utero on a Discman. I thought then it was better than Nevermind, and I still think In Utero is hands down their best record—one of the few grunge albums that holds its own twenty years later.
As many critics have noted, In Utero owes much of its raw sound to producer Steve Albini (Pixies, Breeders, PJ Harvey), whom Cobain sought to help them break away from the glossy, over-produced sound of Nevermind. (Check out the production drama backstory involving DGC and remixed tracks.) The 20th Anniversary Edition comes in several formats and package options. I bought the 3-LP vinyl set (180 gram vinyl cut at 45 RPMs) that includes the original album, eight unreleased tracks recorded during the In Utero sessions, and Albini’s original mix for the two singles: “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies.” (The studio remixed and replaced his original tracks before going into production.) While I agree Albini’s the main reason In Utero sounds so good—he knows how to record drums better than just about any motherfucker on the planet—I’m still partial to famed R.E.M. producer Scott Litt’s original remixes (click that drama link) of “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies” due entirely to the fact that those are the first versions I heard and fell in love with, rendering all subsequent mixes inferior for purely nostalgic reasons.
The new set is pricey, but it’s great to finally have all mixes, remixes, and unreleased tracks together in one package. More comprehensive review at Pitchfork if you’re into that sort of thing.